… violence stems from Islamic law, the Shariah, which insists that Islam, and the Koran in particular, enjoy a privileged status. Islam ferociously punishes anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, who trespasses against Islam’s sanctity. Codes in Muslim-majority states generally reflect this privilege; for example, Pakistan’s blasphemy law
, 295-C, punishes derogatory remarks about Muhammad with execution.
No less important, Shariah denigrates the sanctities of other religions, a tradition manifested in recent years by the destruction of the Buddhist Bamiyan statues
and the desecration of the Jewish Tomb of Joseph
and the Christian Church of the Nativity
. A 2003 decree ruled the Bible suitable for use by Muslims when cleaning after defecation
. Iranian authorities reportedly burned hundreds of Bibles
in May. This imbalance, whereby Islam enjoys immunity and other religions are disparaged, has long prevailed in Muslim-majority countries.
Then, in 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini abruptly extended this double standard to the West when he decreed that British novelist Salman Rushdie be executed on account of the blasphemies in his book, The Satanic Verses. With this, Khomeini established the Rushdie Rules, which still remain in place. They hold that whoever opposes “Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran” may be put to death; that anyone connected to the blasphemer must also be executed; and that all Muslims should participate in an informal intelligence network to carry out this threat.
Self-evidently, these rules contradict a fundamental premise of Western life, freedom of speech. As summed up by the dictum
, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” that freedom assures protection for the right to make mistakes, to insult, to be disagreeable, and to blaspheme.
If the Rushdie Rules initially shocked the West, they since have become the new norm. When Islam is the subject, freedom of speech is but a pre-1989 memory. Writers, artists, and editors readily acknowledge that criticizing Islam can endanger their lives